Sgt. Hiram Williams Purcell

Sgt. Hiram Williams Purcell


104th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Medal of Honor Certificate No. 13

Stories about Sgt. Hiram Williams Purcell

To whom it may concern:

This is to certify that Hiram W. Purcell was enrolled on the Sixteenth day of September 1861, to serve during the war, and was discharged on the Thirtieth day of September 1864, by reason of muster out of company while holding the grade of Sergeant, in Company G, 104 Regiment of Pennsylvania Infantry Volunteers; that a Medal of Honor was awarded to him on the Twelfth day of May 1894, for distinguished gallantry at the Battle of Fair Oaks, VA on May 31, 1862.

Being a bearer of one of the regimental flags when his regiment was on the retreat, Sergeant Pursell returned in the face of the advancing enemy with his own flag in his hand and saved the other regimental flag which would otherwise have been captured; that his name was entered and recorded on the Army and Navy Medal of Honor Roll on the Fourth day of May 1916, as authorized under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved April 27, 1916 and that he is entitled to receive the special pension granted by that Act.

Given at the War Department, Washington, D.C., this Fifteenth day of May, 1916.

By authority of the Secretary of War: W.P. McCain, The Adjutant General.

Sgt. Hiram Williams Purcell

1837 - 1918

The singular Medal of Honor recipient of the 104th PA was Sgt. Hiram Williams Purcell, for a seemingly simple act of recovering the company's flag left in the midst of a Union Army retreat. It was not really a simple act to him or his regiment, but by today's standards the loss of a flag may not represent the humiliation as it did during the Civil War.

This episode occurred at the first battle the 104th PA ever fought in; the battle of Fair Oaks, part of the battle for Richmond .. the Confederate capitol. Half of the men of the 104th were either wounded or killed that day, with repercussions that lasted a lifetime for many. Sgt. Pursell was among those wounded. He had been shot twice when he returned to his comrades with the flag, and near collapse from loss of blood. The Commanding General's bugler played an important part in that he helped Sgt. Pursell onto his horse and carried him off the battlefield, thus saving his life in all likelihood. The wounded men that remained and could not be reached were captured and put into rebel stockade camps.

Hiram Williams Purcell was born in Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County, PA in 1837. He later migrated to Nockamixon Twp when he first enlisted in the army. He served for 90 days with the 6th PA Volunteers and then was mustered out after serving his "time". Still wanting to serve his country, he went to Doylestown, PA to sign up with the 104th PA and went into training at Fort Lacey (located on what is now the Central Bucks West High School).

He applied himself so well .. that his Colonel, W.W.H. Davis promoted him to Corporal in October of 1861 .. and to Sergeant the next September, 1862. The regiment had moved on to Washington, DC in November 1861 .. and were put to work immediately building their own permanent quarters as their tents could get unhealthy in poor weather. By March 1862, the brigade broke camp of which the 104th PA was a part, to begin their sojourn that was to last until 1864.

Following recovery from his wounds received at Fair Oaks, Sgt. Pursell returned to his regiment, was wounded again and finally honorably discharged in 1864. He married another Bucks Countian**, Sara Sigafoos**, in 1865 after returning home and in subsequent years became the father of four children. He did not return to his original trade of "boatman". It appears that he did various jobs, then taking a maintenance job with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, eventually moving up to crew supervisor. As a highly respected White Haven, PA citizen, he served on its' Borough Council as well as the local School Board.

Sgt. Purcell did not actually receive his medal until 1894. He would in time receive one of the redesigned Medals of Honor, making a rather unique situation of having two different medals for the same "conspicuous gallantry", the only criteria so stated for receiving one. Sgt. Pursell applied for his first "war" pension in 1875, and in 1916 he was given an additional $10 for being a Medal of Honor recipient. He died two years later at the age of 81 years, survived by twelve grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

born: Aug. 1, 1837

died: May 13, 1918

Buried: Laurel Hill Cemetery
White Haven
Luzerne County

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